What Rajkot fire disaster tells us - Hindustan Times
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What Rajkot fire disaster tells us

ByHT Editorial
May 26, 2024 10:59 PM IST

The bar on public safety at entertainment hubs and leisure spots is low and the administration is lax about it. This is unacceptable

At least 27 persons, many of them children, died late Saturday in a fire accident at TRP Game Zone, a privately run recreation facility, in Rajkot, Gujarat. Culpability in the tragedy will be established by a State probe and, hopefully, the guilty punished quickly. The facility reportedly did not have a no objection certificate (NOC) from the fire department. If the authorities did not know the facility was functioning without an NOC, that qualifies as a grave administrative failure. If they knew that the mandatory safety protocols were not in place, yet they let the party run its business, that’s a crime. Fire safety is not a luxury. And safety regulations are not meant for rent-seeking but for authorities to enforce in the public interest. The onus is on the administration to ensure that safety measures at entertainment and leisure spaces are in place: A registry of such spaces, licences and NOCs issued to them have to be maintained and regular inspections held. Lack of compliance should be acted upon and public officials should be held accountable for negligence – not just after a disaster strikes.

Officials inspect the site of a fire accident on the following day of the disaster, at an amusement park facility in Rajkot, in India's Gujarat state on May 26, 2024. Four young children were among 27 people killed when a fire in India ripped through a crowded amusement park, police said, as rescuers on May 26 scoured the site the morning after the blaze. (Photo by AFP)(AFP) PREMIUM
Officials inspect the site of a fire accident on the following day of the disaster, at an amusement park facility in Rajkot, in India's Gujarat state on May 26, 2024. Four young children were among 27 people killed when a fire in India ripped through a crowded amusement park, police said, as rescuers on May 26 scoured the site the morning after the blaze. (Photo by AFP)(AFP)

The Rajkot tragedy is, unfortunately, not rare. Earlier this year, 12 students (and two teachers) died in a boating accident while out on an excursion in Vadodara, Gujarat. Two years ago, in Morbi, Gujarat, 135 persons died when a newly opened bridge, which had become the hot entertainment spot in the town, collapsed. A probe pointed to administrative lapses and mismanagement. In 2017, 14 persons died in a fire at a rooftop pub in Kamala Mills Complex, Mumbai, which did not have emergency exits and whose fire safety equipment did not work. In 2009, 45 tourists drowned at the Thekkady lake in Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary when their boat, which was operating without life jackets and lifeguards, sank. The worst of such tragedies at entertainment spots has to be the 1997 Uphaar theatre tragedy in Delhi when 59 persons perished in a fire.

These tragedies could have been prevented, or many casualties avoided, if the facilities had complied with safety norms. There is no shortage of regulations in India but officials often see them as avenues for rent-seeking and ignore their intent. Scores die or are maimed in avoidable accidents – including in fires and stampedes at shrines and fairs – annually. There is rarely any closure in any of these. The idea is not to ensure some sort of retributive justice, but it has to be hardwired into the system that no person/utility/facility shall be allowed to be lax about public safety. It is time we end this criminal negligence of the safety of citizens.

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